Saturday evening update: Jimmy Johnson won his first race of the Sprint Cup season at Darlington tonight and, by doing so, he recorded Hendrick Motorsports' 200th victory in NASCAR's premier division. Denny Hamlin was second and Tony Stewart finished third. Results
Saturday morning update: Pastor Maldonado (Williams-Renault) will start from pole for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton was disqualified for not returning to the pits after setting his time in qualifying Saturday. Fernando Alonso will start second for Ferrari and Romain Grosjean will go off third in his Lotus. Details
At the Toronto auto show in 2010, the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame inducted the last of the automotive originals, Carroll Shelby.
He was the first inductee to be enshrined in the newly created International category to honour non-Canadians who made significant contributions to Canadian motorsport during their careers.
Shelby, of course, was instrumental in the success of the legendary Canadian Comstock Racing Team of the 1960s that so dominated Canadian road racing. The late Chuck Rathgeb was the money, Paul Cooke was team manager and chief mechanic and Eppie Wietzes was the driver.
Cooke and Wietzes were on hand that February evening, as were about 500 others, when the late Car & Driver magazine columnist David E. Davis acted as MC for the induction ceremony.
It was a grand evening and Shelby was charming. There were, of course, some mutterings of dissent that the Hall of Fame shouldn’t have started to induct "furriners" when there were still deserving Canadians to be honoured but they were outnumbered about a thousand to one and nobody paid them much attention.
When the news came Friday, though, that Shelby had died in Dallas at 89 of pneumonia, there was unanimity in the motoring community that a genius had passed, that Carroll Shelby was truly the last of the automotive originals of the 20th Century, Mickey Thompson having preceded him.
Shelby was a good looking, swashbuckling racing driver who was forced to leave the cockpit because of a bad heart. In fact, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959 before retiring as a driver and starting to build a succession of high-powered, big iron, Detroit muscle cars (AC Cobra, Shelby Mustang, et al).
In 1964, he went to Europe to take on Ferrari in their own backyard with guys like Phil Hill, Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant doing the driving. The photo at the top of this post says it all.
In 1965, he was hired by Henry Ford II to lead Ford’s effort at Le Mans with the GT40 and the team won the classic 24-hour race four years in succession starting in 1966, when it swept the podium.
Up until the end, Shelby – through his Shelby American company – continued to increase the horsepower of a succession of Mustangs, while still keeping them street legal. Two were debuted this year, at the Detroit and New York auto shows.
At his Hall of Fame induction at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Shelby said this:
"I’m just a hot-rodder. That’s all I’ve ever been is a hot-rodder. People ask me what I do and I say I make cars that are very powerful and go very fast."
Although he didn’t say so that evening, he was wont to say: "I love horsepower; the more of it, the better."
Although he suffered heart problems his whole life (operations, pills, a transplant in 1990) he delighted in consuming chili – the hotter, the better – and promoted an annual chili festival to find the latest, greatest recipe.
He also founded the Carroll Shelby Foundation in support of children needing transplants. At that induction in 2010, to raise money for the foundation and for the Hall of Fame, a 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 was auctioned off and when the bidding tapered off at a little over $100,000, he threw the black cowboy hat he’d worn up on the plane into the pot. As a result, the car (and the hat) eventually sold for $105,000.
A genius and an original, Shelby was also a character, as that little vignette shows.
It’s trite to say he’ll be missed. With his passing, there’s nobody left.
I must apologize for being MIA this week. After posting the salute to Gilles Villeneuve that appears below, I was simply too busy with the new job I have at the Star to do much research in order to write. I’ll do better.
They’re going to be practicing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today. If you’re interested, there will be live streaming of activities at the Speedway on www.indycar.com whenever ABC or NBC isn’t on the air. So let’s just call that blanket coverage.
I’ll probably pep up for the race, but I’m in a funk over the 500 again. They are scraping to get 33 in the field, which means James Jakes (who wasn’t fast enough last year), Michel Jourdain Jr. (who hasn’t been in a car in years) and rookie Jean Alesi (no single-seat activity since 2001 and someone who has never driven on an oval before) are guaranteed starts. So I can’t get excited. Sorry.
Paul Tracy is at home and those bums are in cars and that just ain’t right.
Meantime, Danica Patrick has signed a monster deal with Coca-Cola. (Gee, I wonder why? How come they didn’t sign somebody who just has talent????) The haters will really come out of the woodwork now.
I suggest she will win a race or two this season, or early next. No, she won’t get "the call." I think she’s that good. And so does Coca-Cola.
At Darlington, meantime, she finished 12th in Friday night's Nationwide race. Joey Logano was the winner. She qualified 38th for Saturday night's Cup race. reg Biffle will start from pole.